Numismatic and History Discussions > History and Archeology

Population of Roman Empire cities

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David Atherton:
Hello all,

I've read that Rome had a Population around 1 million and Alexandria around 500,000....but what about the other major cities of the Roman Empire? Has anyone read or heard anything about them ( Ostia, Antioch, Carthage, Ephesus, Lugdunum, ect...). I would really like to know how big these cities actually were. I guess it would really depend on the time period, so lets narrow it down to the mid 1st to mid 2nd century A.D. ( before the plagues of Marcus Aurelius).

Any info would be much appreciated!

Hi David!

That's an interesting problem! Here I have some information found in 'Der kleine Pauly, Lexikon der Antike, 1979' (translation by me):

'The ancient or modern trials to calculate the population of ancient territories are by criterias of scientific statistics insufficient.
The problem of the population of Rome first was cleared since 1940 by v.Gerkan by reference to the archaeologic-topographic basis claimed already by H.G.Wells. According to him Rome could have in the time of the Late Republic never more than 624.000 inhabitants, the Imperial Rome never more than 698.000 inhabitants. The hellenistic-roman towns of the East were smaller, with exception of Alexandria perhaps. The population of the Imperium Romanum is estimated to be 50 to 70 Millions. In the late antiquity the population of Rome goes down to 15.000 in the 6.century. Constantinopolis rised at the same time to ca.600.000 under Justinian I, reaching 1 Million never before 1453.'

I've read literature about calculating the population of Rome. It starts with the building of the 'insulae' (the houses, in which most of the Roman people live!), how high they are, howmany qm surface area they have, how many  persons could have inhabitant such 'insula', how great was the area of the ancient Rome, how big was the built-up area of Rome, how great was the building density, how was the distribution of  the building density of this area and so on. You have to take into account knowledge of the infrastructure, f.e. you have to calculate the quantity of water coming through the aquaducts to Rome and so on and so on.
There are so many unknown quantities in this calculation that each quantifying should be seen cum grano salis.


You'd have to estimate every one, and any sort of error could easily be magnified when you're dealing with so many unknowns, and so few definite quantities. I'd take the results with an ocean of salt; no way can you work it out as accurately as the figures might suggest, and unless its been lost in transmission, Wells doesn't seem to give any estimate of the accuracy of his figures.

David Atherton:
I guess I'm looking for "ballpark" stats. I've made my own list of major cities of the empire with around about population figures( that I've compiled from various sources) and was wondering if they were even close.

Lepitus Magna-80,000

The above stats probably lean towards the high end figures. Any comments or suggestions would be welcomed. :)  Remember these are rough guesses and not factual population numbers.
Are there any other major cities I've left out?

William J Bligh:
Londinium would've been fairly large, too, I believe. Having its own mint, ant all, I would've expected it to have 50k or so


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